As U.S. Rep. James Moran won the Democratic nomination to seek reelection to his 8th District House seat Tuesday, he also won out in a battle that had become a referendum on his character.
Moran beat challenger Andrew Rosenberg by almost 20 percentage points in a the June 8 primary. It was not the last step for Moran, who will still face Republican challenger Lisa Marie Cheney in the November general election.
But in a majority Democrat district, Moran has fared well in the past, and appears to be on track to win an eighth term as the representative for Arlington, Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County.
During the campaign, Rosenberg pointed to Moran’s past behavior as the central point of his campaign. Moran’s tendency toward verbal gaffes left core constituencies upset, Rosenberg said.
Speaking at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston on March 3, 2003, Moran said, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this.”
Moran also came in for criticism for accepting a $25,000 loan from lobbyist Terry Lierman and then supporting drug legislation that benefited one of Lierman’s clients. In 2002, Moran took a loan from an executive with credit card giant MBNA in 2002, then voted to support a bankruptcy bill that MBNA favored.
But voters in Arlington were more interested in voting for a long-time Democratic representative who had proven himself, and rejected questions of Moran’s conduct as typical electioneering.
Low turnout may have spelled trouble for Rosenberg. The challenger spent his campaign on the street, going door to door around the district introducing himself, but not all of those voters came to the polls on Tuesday.
Of Arlington’s 123,372 registered voters, only 12.7 percent showed up at all in a primary open to Democrats, Republicans and independents. Turnout for the February presidential primary was about 20 percent of registered voters.
Tuesday’s turnout “was certainly lower than the immediate past primary,” said Allen Harrison, chairman of the county’s electoral board. “It was lower than we expected.”
<b>TURNOUT WAS SLOW</b> and low Tuesday morning at Cherrydale precinct. In the parish hall of St. Agnes Catholic Church, two voting machines waited, but often only one was in use.
“It’s been slow, but steady,” said precinct chief Bill Harkins. Of the 2,589 registered voters in Cherrydal, only 90 people had shown up in the first three hours polls were open.
“My gut reaction is, there’s a lot of news things going on — with Reagan dying— and this is geting shoved down the line,” said Harkins. “There’s only one thing on the ballot.”
What voters there were mostly voted for Moran. “Knowing all the members the way I do, I’m perfectly comforable with him representing me,” said Scott DeFife, a Democratic House aide. “It’s important for those of us who know Mr. Moran, who know the job he does, to come out and support him.”
Greer Gilka agreed with DeFife, and voted for Moran. “He might shoot himself in the foot occasionally, but he does a good job,” she said. “I don’t know the other candidate at all.”
Outside, Nick Kessler spent most his morning looking for volunteers for another election. “I’m signing people up to get updates on ways to be involved in the presidential race,” said Kessler, the Democratic Party precinct captain for Cherrydale.
“Are you interested in volunteering to work for Kerry?” he asked, as a voter pulled up in a car.
Kessler noted the inaction at the precinct. “There was a point when a lot of cars pulled up,” said Kessler. “But they were here for the school,” he added, pointing to St. Agnes Catholic School, which shares a parking lot with the parish hall.
<b>AT LYON VILLAGE</b> precinct, voters were coming in cars, on bikes and on foot in a steady stream. In the first three hours of the morning, 143 of the district’s 3,741 registered voters had shown up to vote, although “the first hour was slow,” said precinct chief Michael Moorman.
Still, with two electronic voting machines and only one item on the ballot, voters were moving in and out quickly, with little or no line. “We had a line of three or four at one point,” Moorman said.
But the electronic ballot did cause confusion for some voters. After choosing between Moran or Rosenberg, a voter is faced with a summary screen listing his or her vote, but must press OK, then a large red “Vote” button to cast their vote.
One woman looking at the summary screen called over an election worker. “She said, ‘I think I voted,’” Moorman said.
<b>ONCE VOTES WERE</b> cast, though, voters in Lyon Village also lined up on the side of the incumbent. “I voted for Moran,” said George Bradish, strapping on his bicycle helmet after leaving the Lyon Village Community House.
It was a question of voting for a known quantity, Bradish said. He knew where Moran stood on the issues, and that was more important than personality clashes.
“He’s against the war in Iraq, and I’m really against the war in Iraq,” Bradish said. “I’m more a liberal Democrat than mainstream.”
Besides, he said, Moran is still someone he knows beyond the ballot box. “I used to go to Blessed Sacrament Church, and I used to see him over there.”